ERIC Number: EJ1007262
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2013-Jun
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 0
The Case of the Missing Pronouns: Does Mentally Simulated Perspective Play a Functional Role in the Comprehension of Person?
Sato, Manami; Bergen, Benjamin K.
Cognition, v127 n3 p361-374 Jun 2013
Language comprehenders can mentally simulate perceptual and motor features of scenes they hear or read about (Barsalou, 1999; Glenberg & Kaschak, 2002; Zwaan, Stanfield, & Yaxley, 2002). Recent research shows that these simulations adopt a particular perspective (Borghi, Glenberg & Kaschak, 2004; Brunye, Ditman, Mahoney, Augustyn, & Taylor, 2009). Moreover, features of utterances influence the perspective that comprehenders are led to adopt. For instance, language about "you" primes a participant visual perspective, while third person "he" and "she" prime an observer perspective. But what role does perspectival mental simulation play in the comprehension of person? On the one hand, the different perspectives adopted during language understanding could be necessary for successfully determining the meaning of an utterance. However, current empirical evidence is also compatible with the possibility that adopting a perspective in mental simulation is not essential to comprehending who did what to whom. If the latter is the case, then we should be able to find cases where language comprehenders understand who did what to whom without measurably performing mental simulation from a particular perspective. A candidate language that might display such a case is Japanese, where grammatical subject pronouns can be omitted when the subject is inferable from context. We replicated a previously used method for assessing perspectival mental simulation during language comprehension, but tailored it to Japanese. The results showed that when pronouns were present, like in English, sentences facilitated identification of an image matching the proposed perspective associated with the mentioned pronoun. This replicated the previous finding for English. But when the subject pronoun was omitted, so that the sentence did not explicitly mention the subject, there was no such effect. Nonetheless, native comprehenders of Japanese automatically and easily tracked who the subjects of the sentences with omitted subjects were. Together, these findings suggest that while grammatical person modulates visual perspective in mental simulation, visual perspective is not necessary for successful identification and representation of event participants. (Contains 5 figures.)
Descriptors: Identification, Comprehension, Form Classes (Languages), Grammar, English (Second Language), Sentences, Cognitive Processes, Simulation, Language Usage, Role, Japanese, Evaluation Methods
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
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